Sunday, May 13, 2012

in limbo

And so here we are. It is the seventh day after national elections and we still don’t have a government.

This week political party leaders held a series of meetings with one another, trying to figure out if they could piece together a government which would complete the parliamentary puzzle. And it seems like today’s last-ditch efforts to form a coalition government has also failed. The probable result of this week’s political wrangling is new elections in June, and until then, a caretaker government.

The election results produced new realities – Pasok, the established party which dominated Greek politics since the 1980’s, came in third with 13%. Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left), a party which was only founded about 10 years ago, was second, with 17%. Main opposition party New Democracy, was first with 19% of the votes. The most distressing election result was the 7% that neo-Nazi Chrisi Avgi (Golden Dawn) gained, which would give them 21 seats in parliament if a government was formed.

So for the time being, we sit in limbo and we wait.

The world keeps spinning I suppose, and on the surface everyone is going about their usual day-to-day routines. From a distance, everything seems to be functioning as usual. But if you look a little closer, you notice that things are, in fact, really quite… different.

On Wednesday, May 9, police mistook a visiting professor from India, Dr Shailendra Kumar Rai, for an illegal immigrant and arrested him. He was taken to the police station and detained. Dr Rai is a visiting lecturer at the Athens University of Economics and Business. He has been teaching here for six weeks and will conclude his classes at the end of June. On Wednesday, when he stepped out of his office (without his passport) police stopped him for an identity check. Dr Rai was interviewed for today’s Sunday Vima (newspaper) and describes the incident in his own words:

It is their [the police] duty to uphold the country’s law and order. To do this, they can stop anyone they want, at any time, to check their identity and inspect them. Therefore I was stopped by police and it was found that I did not have my passport with me. I had just left the university building and had forgotten my passport in my office. In any case, a few minutes after they stopped me, some professors and administrators from the Dean’s office came out and spoke with the authorities, to confirm my identity and my relationship to the university. But then I was really surprised when I realized that the police were not willing to listen to my university colleagues, and the result was my arrest. That’s what was shocking to me. It was my first bad experience in Athens….

The article also says that the dean himself, Konstantinos Gatsios, had to intervene in order for Dr Rai to be released from the police station.

As the week dragged on, each day brought news of yet another impasse and by Friday everyone was getting increasingly skeptical, confused, angry, scared, annoyed, distrustful, charged, restless…

A stroll around the square in my neighborhood late afternoon on Friday was an odd experience. I’ve never seen the square so full of people. All of the outdoor cafes were packed – not an empty seat could be found; the pedestrian walkways were over-crowded; people sat on benches or stood around in groups; in one area a small cluster of teenagers had gathered and were playing guitars and singing; a homeless man with a goofy smile was stretched out on a patch of grass, barefoot and propped up on his side observing the scene; some of the political parties still had their pre-election kiosks up and people were gathered there, sitting around and talking. There was an electric buzz in the air. You could feel it.

I don’t think it was the warm weather that brought everyone out of their apartment buildings for a cool afternoon stroll; I think we all had a need to get out and talk to people instead of being cooped up inside watching endless debates and listening to talking heads on TV… It’s as if all the people in the square were anticipating something but we didn’t know what… so we stood around, sat around, strolled around and waited… in limbo.

On Saturday night while sitting in my living room with the balcony doors slightly open, I heard the distant sounds of a crowd approaching and car horns honking… I figured it was just the fans of a local soccer team who often take victory laps through the streets when their team wins a big match. I’m not much of a sports fan so I was not aware of any big games that might have been happening that evening. But as the noise got louder, it didn’t sound like the usual celebratory cheering – I could hear chanting.

I stood on the balcony and watched as about 100 people carrying large banners and signs walked up the main street towards the square (traffic piled up behind them) – they had megaphones and shouted anti-fascist slogans: “Golden Dawn is not a political party, they are neo-Nazis”, “no Nazis in our parliament”, “rid the fascists from our neighborhoods”…

I watched as the group headed towards the square, with two lines of riot police escorting them on either side of the street. A little while later, the small mobile rally returned – they must have walked around the entire square and were on their way to another destination. They passed on the opposite side of the main street, riot police in tow, with a bunch of excited little kids trailing behind them. The blocked traffic eventually started moving, the honking horns ceased and the group exited as strangely as they had appeared.

After a rather surreal week, I feel almost speechless, and so I must borrow the words of one of my favorite Jimmy Cliff songs, and leave you with these thoughts:

Sitting here in limbo, but I know it won't be long
Sitting here in limbo, like a bird without a song
Sitting here in limbo, waiting for the dice to roll
Sitting here in limbo, got some time to search my soul

Sitting here in limbo waiting for the tide to flow
Sitting here in limbo knowing that I have to go…

1 comment:

Racism is Racism said...

Would they have stopped the professor if he was a caucasian professor who looked Greek, even if he was from India?